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December 24, 2010

 

County picks firm to review radio project

Syracuse law firm will aid in environmental review of communication upgrades

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Cortland County will likely retain the Syracuse law firm Gilberti Stinziano Heintz and Smith to aid it with the state’s required environmental work associated with the county’s radio communication system upgrade.
The price of this contract is not yet known.
County Administrator Martin Murphy, Information Technology officials, Legislature Chairman Jack Williams (D-8th Ward) and Legislators Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) and Michael Park (R-Homer) met with attorneys from the law firm earlier in the week to discuss how to proceed. A
Arnold and Park chair the Budget and Finance and Judiciary and Public Safety committees, respectively.
Murphy said the committees will consider a contract with the law firm next month and the Legislature would vote on hiring the firm at the Jan. 27 session.
“It is prudent to have legal assistance in this process,” Murphy said.
Also at that session, the Legislature will confirm the county’s “lead agency” status for the state environmental quality review process.
The law firm can help the county complete its SEQR by August, Murphy said.
The county stated its intent to be lead agency at the Dec. 16 session. Until Jan. 27, another agency could step forward and seek to be lead agency.
Murphy said that is unlikely.
Once the county has confirmed its lead agency status, it can proceed with the SEQR work. Initially this will entail separating out the design phase of the process so that phase of the work can begin. The county will have to repeat the steps of declaring lead agency and preparing an environmental impact statement once the project moves beyond the design phase.
The design phase alone is expected to take up to a year.
The project will upgrade the county’s radio system to narrowband and increase the ability of the county’s emergency responders to communicate with one another. The county plans to contract with Motorola for up to $16 million to do the work.
The upgrade is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission to be complete by Jan. 1 2013.
Murphy said the county cannot bond for the work until the SEQR is completed. He said the law firm will guide the county through the process of preparing a SEQR, since the county does not have experience in that area.
“Part of this requires the preparation of a generic impact statement that we don’t have the expertise to do,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the law firm will prepare a package that also includes hiring an environmental consultant to prepare the environmental impact statement.
The consultant would start preparing a draft “scoping document” in early 2011 that will lay out the areas that will be examined, such as impacts to the landscape or noise pollution and other possible environmental impacts.
A public hearing will likely be held on the document in March.
Then the draft environmental impact statement will begin, as each area laid out in the scoping document is examined in detail. Public hearings would be held on this document as well.
Murphy said the county will begin paying Motorola in 2012. Murphy said at this time the county could use a bond anticipation note, which allows the county to borrow money as needed instead of borrowing all the money at once.
“You can renew a BAN (bond anticipation note) every year for up to five years. Once you borrowed all the money and don’t anticipate more you, roll that into a permanent bond,” Murphy said.
Information Technology Deputy Director Jack Hess said he will aggressively pursue grant opportunities, adding he is already planning to submit applications for deadlines ranging from Jan. 22 to May of next year.
Hess is hopeful about receiving funding from one source, an emergency communications grant, administered by the state Department of Homeland Security, which has a Feb. 12 deadline.
This pool of money awarded the county $200,000 to retain its consultant, Federal Engineering, which sought requests for proposals for the work earlier this year.
Hess said the law firm will provide the necessary guidance for the county to properly complete the SEQR.
“I am very optimistic after the discussions we had with the attorneys who have done it not just once but several times, that they understand the process and are taking a very strong lead, saying, ‘Here’s what we have to do and this is the time frame,’ ” Hess said.

 

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